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The Week

The week in review.

Well, what do you know? The Dutch portrait head that surfaced at a small English auction sale in 2007 and was bought as a Rembrandt for £2 million has now been acquired by the Getty as the earliest known self-portrait by the master for an undisclosed sum. It now also carries the Ernst van de Wetering stamp of approval, which one should take seriously even if his and the Rembrandt Research Project’s track record is far from consistently convincing. (Check this video where van de Wetering talks up the picture).

I haven’t seen the picture in the flesh, but it still looks like a pastiche to me. Like somebody imitating Rembrandt, overdoing his signature paint application and stylistic flourishes — the impastoed facial modeling, the strong contrast, the patchy fill-in of the background. But I am no specialist and may of course be entirely wrong.

Links (it’s been a while!)

  • Du9′s annual Numérologie posting, analysing the French-language comics market, is back with coverage of 2012 and it’s bigger and better than ever. Xavier Guilbert has really grown with this feature and this is some of his most impressive work yet. Required reading for anybody interested in the field.
  • Music release of the week: Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson’s second long-player — now under the name of The Uncluded — Hokey Fright, available for streaming here. I already like it better than the Hail May Mallon album, I think.
  • Ray Harryhausen RIP. Steve Bissette with a personal appreciation of the special effects master.
  • Also, in the latest installment of his always excellent column at The Comics Journal, Ryan Holmberg interviews Barath Murthy of Comix India.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    Hip hop’s making bullshit headlines again. This time over the reaction to the murder, last month, of Chicago MC Lil Jojo. After news hit that the 18-year old had been shot in a drive-by, his rival Chief Keef — with whom he had been beefing, seemingly in a grab for quick fame — went on twitter to gloat. When the shit hit the fan, Keef — perhaps advised by his record company Interscope — started claiming his twitter account had been hacked and started posting “uplifting” PC boilerplate. He also claimed not to be responsible for threats of violence against his older colleague Lupe Fiasco, who had spoken out against his behavior on the radio.

    Whether Lil Jojo’s death has anything to do with Keef or not, that’s just pathetic. Now, I know that violent rhetoric in rap has a lot to do with a violent culture, and is more a symptom than a cause — a symptom that occasionally proves to be a way out for people, and one that tells us volumes about the social breakdown of parts of American society. Attacking rap music for very real problems in society that are far bigger than hip hop is not necessarily productive, but on the other hand you sometimes miss the days when more people in the community did what Lupe, and fellow Chicago MC Rhymefest, just did and spoke out against the bullshit being perpetuated by a lot of hip hop artists, the vast majority possessed of no talent and lacking the intelligence to convert their rhetoric into hard truth. Player hating is now a bad word in hip hop, which has increasingly become a laissez-faire subculture impressed first and last by money. It used to make hip hop proud.

    If you don’t believe me, check out Keef’s biggest hit “I Don’t Like” here. It’s basically a series of inarticulate grunts over a generic beat with a sort-of effective, repetitive hook. The most interesting part is the curiously homosocial video and what it tells us about how these guys want us to see them. This cut from Lil Jojo, which was part of his PR dis campaign against Keef, is just as telling. All the same: RIP.

    Links:

  • In a week where I’ve dissed The New Yorker, I feel good being able to recommend the magazine too, this time for a lengthy article on presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
  • Comics: Xavier Guilbert interviews Anton Kannemeyer of Bitterkomix, Ryan Holmberg on Osamu Tezuka’s debut “New Treasure Island” and its American antecedents, and — from the Hooded Utilitarian’s now-finished five-year anniversary series: Noah Berlatsky on Ai Yazawa’s Nana and Joe McCulloch on Milo Manara.
  • The Week


    The week in review

    Another great drawing by Raphael is coming up for sale. Like the Female Head, which broke all records when it sold for £29 million in 2009, it’s a so-called auxiliary cartoon for his last great, large-scale work, the Transfiguration (begun 1516, finished after the master’s death in 1520) now in the Vatican. Coming from one of the greatest private collections — accessible to the public — of drawings in the world, that of the Duke of Devonshire, it’s a well-known and justifiably famous drawing. It’s kind of sad that the Duke occasionally sells off his drawings in this way, potentially occluding great work such as this from public view.

    It shows the head of one of the apostles, and was probably used as a visual supplement to the drawn cartoon used in the studio to transfer the composition to the panel. Like the Female Head, it shows pounce marks (the little dots along the contours), which one would expect to be evidence that it was transferred off the present sheet, probably to the final panel (coal dust is pounced through little holes, transferring the composition in outline), but the marks do not seem at all to follow the contours of the drawing, which seems to me indication that an outline design was transferred onto the present sheet and then reworked into the drawing we see.

    Not having seen the drawing in the flesh, I’m far from certain about this, and I haven’t consulted the literature either, so I may just be talking nonsense here. I just find the drawing exciting, with its smoky chiaroscuro suggesting strong light falling from the right, picking out the cranial features and accentuating the melancholy aspect of the young man. Lips parsed, tussled hair, young beard, intelligent but passive.

    The drawing’s estimated price of between £10-15 million reflects the kind of drawing we’re dealing with here: a large, highly finished piece by one of the defining artists of the Western tradition — the kind of work that only comes up for sale extremely rarely, despite what the 2009 sale would seem to indicate. One question is whether it’ll reach the same, frankly unbelievable price that sheet fetched. Judging by quality I think it should: it appears to me a more finely rendered and subtly beautiful drawing than the Female Head, which is beautiful but slightly rote by Raphael’s standards. This is the same type of drawing, but shows more invention and, I think, carries a greater emotional charge.

    Anyway, let’s see what happens at the sale. I hope the Getty or some other wealthy public institution steps in.

    Links:

  • Salman Rushdie on the repressive culture of offense and fear. With the release of his memoirs coinciding fortuitously with the tragic international flare-up of unrest related to that idiotic video on the prophet Muhammad, Danish TV programme Deadline broadcast this interview with the author, recorded the week before. Also: read Bill Keller on Rushdie and the controversy.
  • The anniversary of hate at the Hooded Utilitarian continued this week, with some really good pieces, led by Isaac Butler’s savage critique of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, which also sparked fascinating discussion. Craig Fischer’s piece on David Small’s Stitches was also good. Plus it was nice to see the inimitable Tom Crippen writing again.
  • Henry Sørensen interviewing Morten Søndergård on fifty years of Spider-Man. This now completed extended dialogue is a really great read, but is unfortunately only available in Danish. But do check it out if you can read the language, part one, two, three. Totally unrelated: Xavier Guilbert’s interview with Anders Nilsen is in English, and good!
  • The Week


    The week in review

    The drive for new Caravaggios continues unabated, it seems, with the hard to believe recent attribution of about a 100 drawings and ten oil paintings from the Castello Sforza in Milan that once belonged to Caravaggio’s master Simone Peterzano. They were just published on the web by Art historians Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli as having been executed by the baroque master. Needless to say, this would be sensational of true — no drawings by Caravaggio are known.

    However, Caravaggio is rivaled perhaps only by Leonardo among artists who attract frivolous claims of sensational discovery, which come at a clip of about one a year or so. This, however, is unusually aspirational. Although Caravaggio is described in the sources as an artist who didn’t draw, working exclusively “after nature,” he is likely to have drawn at least a little, but it is still hard to believe that so many of his youthful drawings should have been in the possession of his master and have been hiding in plain sight for the better part of a century.

    As Stefano Boeri from the Milan Culture Center says in this clip, the collection has been known to scholars since the collection was acquired by the municipality in 1924. Although there have been speculation about certain individual pieces, no one before has given this large a section to the master.

    I haven’t studied this collection, but merely from looking at the few drawings filmed in the clip and in the promotional video at the site launched in support of the claim, it strikes me as highly unlikely that even those are by the same hand and none of the eclectic selection shown looks remotely to be of the quality of the early paintings used for comparison.

    I suppose every proposal deserves a hearing, but this looks aspirational to say the least.

    Links!

  • Remembering KMG. Excellent short appreciation by Brandon Soderbergh of the recently deceased Above The Law MCs writing, delivery and role in the group.
  • “Le manga en France.” Xavier Guilbert delivers another of his exemplary comics market analyses. Must-read for anything with this particular interest.
  • “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her: On Leaving New York.” A little too clever in its writing for its own good perhaps, but this essay by Cord Jefferson on living in New York is still pretty spot on about certain aspects of the experience.
  • Dream Hampton on Frank Ocean coming out. This has been linked everywhere, but on the off-chance that you haven’t seen it, it’s a good if somewhat overblown piece of writing on this potential landmark event in hip hop culture.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    Vacation and work have kept me away for a while, a will probably continue to do so for a little while yet. While in Boston, I checked back on one of the city’s premier cultural institutions.

    The new wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is emblematic of museum branding today, all the more so because of the particular intractability of its foundational stipulations. In a cultural climate where having a great collection simply isn’t enough, institutional visibility has become closely tied to event culture. for a museum that can’t even rehang its collection, this is of course a problem, so what do you do? Raise $180 million and hire go-to starchitect Renzo Piano to facilitate all the things museums seem convinced they have to do to stay afloat these days: an new wing housing a concert hall, a gift shop, a restaurant, a children’s art room, an exhibition space for artists-in-residence, a greenery. All sustainable, geothermal and daylight-harvesting, of course.

    You do what you gotta do to survive, I suppose, but the absurdity of this trend for museums to go extra-curricular is particularly clear at the Gardner, whose intermittently great collection is forever trapped in a mediocre hang by the vanity of its founder, who insisted that everything be presented exactly as she left it at her death. This results in many important works being hung at low visibility and in often idiosyncratic and unenlightening juxtaposition, with the preciously empty frames of masterworks stolen in 1990 remaining on the walls as if to consecrate this “vision.” A new wing could have worked wonders for the presentation of the museum’s masterpieces, if only.

    Still, Boston has a new, reportedly great concert hall and I’m sure Piano’s elegant building will attract customers. It has the potential to become a strong cultural center, if it does not blow too many leaks and if the museum’s direction finds ways of breaking its somewhat stale reputation. A good thing, even if the overall tendency is troubling.

    A bunch of recent comics links:

  • The new Du9. One of the best critical sites about comics on the web, du9.org has just undergone a thorough, attractive redesign, led by editor-in-chief Xavier Guilbert’s extensive analysis of developments in the French-language comics market in the last year or so.
  • Neal Kirby on his Father Jack Kirby. Touching and informative reminiscence of growing up Kirby.
  • Shaenon Garrity on the fifty greatest pop songs about comics. Inventive, fun, insightful. And it mentions the Last Emperor’s amazing “Secret Wars.” I should add that the Philly MC does dead-ringing impressions of the rappers he casts in his epic comic book battle. Here’s hoping she will post part two soon.
  • Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Better late than never: the new Comics Journal is off to a strong start, with plenty of interesting material posted in its first weeks. My favorites have been the first instalment of Ryan Holmberg’s history of alternative comics in Japan, Jeet Heer’s notes on racism in comics, Ken Parille’s reading of a story by Moto Hagio (smartly contested by Noah Berlatsky at HU), and Patrick Rosenkrantz’ history of autiobiographical comics.
  • No one does the comics numbers like du9′s Xavier Guilbert. And his annual analysis of the French-language comics market for the year 2010, published in January — his most detailed yet — is now available in English.
  • I also found this piece on an alleged American-run wartime concentration camp in Chonquing intriguing. The writer, Xujun Eberlein, admirably attempts to untangle decades of Chinese propaganda to figure out what actually went on there and to what extent Americans were involved in massacres against Chinese communists carried out in the area.
  • Above: Youth Magazine (May 24, 1970), cover drawing by Chiba Tetsuya, design by Yokoo Tadanori. From Holmberg’s article, linked above.

    Picks of the Week

    “The collapse of daily print journalism will mean many things. For those of us old enough to still care about going out on a Sunday morning for our doorstop edition of The Times, it will mean the end of a certain kind of civilized ritual that has defined most of our adult lives. It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind. And it will seriously damage the press’s ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy. Internet purists may maintain that the Web will throw up a new pro-am class of citizen journalists to fill the void, but for now, at least, there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience—not to mention the resources to, say, send journalists leapfrogging between Mumbai and Islamabad to decode the complexities of the India-Pakistan conflict.”

    – Michael Hirschorn

    The picks of the week from around the web.

    We’re still recovering from the holidays here, so it’s a slow restart. But these are good:

  • The Atlantic: End Times. Great article by Michael Hirschorn about the decline of print journalism and the problems faced by the field in this period of transition. (Thanks, Tom).
  • The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama on Samuel Huntington. While I’m not a huge fan of either, there’s no denying their stature, and I’ve read especially Huntington with great interest. While he passed away a couple of weeks ago, I therefore thought I’d link to this fine appreciation anyway.
  • du9: Xavier Guilbert takes on the myth that the depiction of pubic hair in comics and other media is prohibited by law in Japan. A great introduction to Japanese censorship law, and a must-read fro manga fans.
  • Re: The Graphic Novel Tradition

    mein_stundenbuch.jpg
    Following last week’s post on the notion of a ‘graphic novel tradition’ in comics, French comics journalist and connoisseur Xavier Guilbert of the distinguished comics website du9 and I have corresponded on the implications of seeking to take the term seriously as a means of identifying and describing a certain way of thinking about the comics medium and how it has developed historically.

    As these things tend to do, the discussion was ended up a rather sprawling affair touching on aspects of the Franco-Belgian tradition, as well as how the term might be applied to Japanese comics. We hope you’ll enjoy, or at least take away something of interest from this. And, in any case, do let me know what you think about these issues! Continue reading ‘Re: The Graphic Novel Tradition’

    The Graphic Novel Tradition?

    gn_dore.jpg
    Over at the Comics Journal message board, an interesting discussion of the term ‘graphic novel’ and what it may be used to designate is currently buzzing. Amongst the participants is Eddie Campbell, the first cartoonist to take the term seriously since its ascendancy as a marketing gimmick. Expounding persuasively on its usefulness to describe a certain movement in his How to Be an Artist (2001) and even going so far as to write a manifesto for same, he now reckons the term broken through misuse in the media and the larger cultural context they reflect.

    Initially, I was sceptical of the term, and I remain so to an extent. Already shortly after its first signifcant use, by Will Eisner for his comic A Contract with God in 1979, it started becoming corrupted as different opportunistic publishers started releasing the same genre stories they had been putting out for decades in slightly more book-like formats and calling this ‘graphic novels.’ Needless to say, this tendency has more or less taken over now, with the term being used left and right to market a wide variety of comics, most of which have little to do with what Eisner intended for the form.

    Campbell may be right that reclaiming the term for a certain kind of comic is a lost cause, at least when it comes to the cultural mainstream, but I’m not sure that means we should just give it up. If nothing else, it may yet prove to be a valuable term in comics scholarship and who knows what its eventual fate will be in the cultural discourse of the future? Continue reading ‘The Graphic Novel Tradition?’

    Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics VI

    Oh, yeah, it ain’t over muthafuckas! Pepo and the Con C de Arte crew are back with more commentary on the state of French nigh-mainstream comics. Continue reading ‘Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics VI’

    Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics V

    No, I’m not continuing my diatribe against all those talented, boring French cartoonists here. Just wanted to note that the inimitable Bart Beaty touches upon the issue in his review of Christophe Blain’s Gus over at Comics Reporter. Go, read.

    Tangentially related: the press kit strip by Joann Sfar Thomas mentions in his Persepolis-at-Cannes post below reveals that the superstar cartoonists has been hired by the festival to do his comics reportage “Greffier”-style (no haven’t read it yet, but will do. Soon) daily and directly from the festival. And he’s been granted special access to go where no journalists go. Wow. Continue reading ‘Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics V’

    Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics IV

    isaac_pirate_gun.jpgThe discussion on French nigh-mainstream comics continues! (scroll to the bottom for full linkage). Alex Holden, who chimed in earlier, returns with more comments:

    Hi Again Matthias-
    I have still been thinking about this discussion a bit.

    I can’t agree with your statements that Blutch (in particular) is not interested in exploration, since he has been pretty restless in the way he’s been drawing comics the last 10 years. Since Peplum and Mitchum, I guess after Vitesse Moderne (a pretty book, but not a great read to prove your point…), he seemed to drift away from the brushy “ink orgy” style he had become influential for. C’était Le Bonheur is 95% super thin pen lines and the new Petit Christian stories in “Ferraille Illustré” have capitalized on what I have always thought he should do: comics in the style of his dédicaces (pen, brush and ink, but with a colored pencil for more depth).

    Since then, La Volupté has taken this idea even further by eliminating the ink completely and moving completely to charcoal and pencils. I guess these are all still visual components, and could be described as surface elements, but I just don’t think that is the case. I don’t think the mysterious fogginess of the art in La Volupté would work for Le Petit Christian and the thin art of C’était Le Bonheur would fail to produce enough mystery or darkness for La Volupté. Continue reading ‘Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics IV’

    A Certain Tendency in French Comics – Redux

    sfar_klezmer.jpgThe discussion of French comics continues here at the Metabunker! Xavier Guilbert, who previously took issue with my rather polemical essay, is back with more comments, and he brought a link to an interesting discussion of the argument with him. This has prompted me to write what I guess is almost a new version of my essay. Here’s Xavier’s email:

    Hello Matthias,
    Here I am back with yet another reaction to your comments. I must say that the French-language forums (especially here) have been a little puzzled by your comment, not really understanding what really was your gripe with the authors you mention, in general, and your definition of “serious” versus “trifles” in particular.
    Continue reading ‘A Certain Tendency in French Comics – Redux’

    Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics II

    lupus3.jpgMore reactions to my article on French nigh-mainstream comics (read the first batch here):

    Hi Matthias-

    I really enjoyed your article on the French authors.

    After writing and erasing a zillion responses, I have decided to just think about it some more.

    In the meantime, I’d like to chime in and also recommend that you finish Lupus. I gave up on it for a while after the first two, but I eventually broke down and I really enjoyed it as a whole in the end.

    Did you like La Volupte at all? It doesn’t seem like Blutch is really interested in writing straight narratives, unless they are short humor pieces. Is a straight narrative what you think is necessary to creating important works?

    I agree with you about some of the other authors mentioned (Baudoin for sure), but what do you want from Blutch and Blain? What subject matter would you have them approach if you had your druthers? Continue reading ‘Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics II’

    Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics

    blutch_mitchum.jpgComics critic Xavier Guilbert (of the excellent du9) responds to my recent critique of aspects of contemporary French cartooning, I answer him, and we have a conversation. Read on!

    Hello Matthias,
    I’ve read with much interest your latest note on the Metabunker blog, and while you make an interesting point, I beg to differ.

    As a reader, I do look forward to reading the next book of an author I admire, and I have been disappointed when that next book didn’t prove as breathtaking as the previous one. Novelty wearing off, sometimes, but also sometimes the author going in another direction that does not resonate as much with me as the previous one. I think it is in the nature of authors to try different things, and it is in the nature of readers to be sometimes put off by this.

    Trifles, you say? I could reply by saying that Baudoin, of whom you say that he is “fueled by a genuine ambition to convey something about the world” has become increasingly boring to me, while I was very enthusiastic about his work in the first place. Yes, unintentional self-parody, to the point that a Baudoin book sounds, well, like another Baudoin book. Beautifully crafted, but predictable, with the consequence that it ends up leaving me unmoved. In this light, I much prefer reading Gus or the most recent Blutch. Continue reading ‘Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics’